This essay was written in conjunction with Adiwit Ansathammarat on view at CUE Art Foundation March 12 - April 18, 2009.
With a transcultural background of increasing familiarity, Adiwit Ansathammarat was born in Thailand, where he began his education in the visual arts; he left his home in Bangkok as a teenager to study in Edinburgh, then for graduate studies went on to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He arrived in Chicago in 2004, and it was there that I first came to know his work.
Crucial to his life's story, Ansathammarat's displacement to distant northern cities opens a frame of reference for his abstract yet allusive paintings and sculptures that read easily across continents. Ansathammarat's paintings made in Chicago convey an intense longing to return to Thailand. His color-saturated fields occupy large canvases strewn with tiny cuts and gashes that take the form of teardrops. Through the telling and retelling of personal narratives, which he refers to in his often plaintive titles, Ansathammarat overcomes the pain of the small traumas of the everyday. His images and objects playfully-or ruefully-couch moments of existential angst in the minutiae of lived experience.
Anyone familiar with the landscape of Chicago, both literal and figurative, will recognize the city, with its bountiful winter snow and big sky, as the site of his images. The influence of the Chicago Imagist artists will also be apparent. The small wood, metal, and paper forms of 20 30 45 (2009) recall the brightly lit windows that frame the silhouettes of Roger Brown's apartment-dwellers. Ansathammarat's own architectural silhouettes tend to be darker and gloomier, and his imagery is far more generalized than that of the Chicago Imagists. His simple shapes and marks don't seem to be about representation as much as they are about their materials-acrylic on canvas, often huge unstretched canvases fastened to the wall and left hanging from ceiling to floor; watercolors and ink drawings on paper; or sculptures assembled from simple materials such as painted wood, leather and plastic. The sculptures are modest in scale and sit directly on the ground. They share a bright and contrasting color range as well as a simplicity of construction and form.
Ansathammarat's unstretched canvases can range up to 20' in their largest dimension, and in some cases they are cut into shapes that modify the expected rectangle. There are also some conventionally stretched canvases around 30" x 46", some of them irregularly shaped. The watercolors usually maintain a rectangular format and are sized at a consistent 23" x 30". Like the large canvases, they employ cutting as a form of mark-making on and through the surface. The holes, whether cut through canvas or paper, allow light and shadow to play on the wall behind. The artist' s hand is evident in these small perforations, just as in the marks of acrylic or watercolor. After noticing the patterned holes cutting their way through the surfaces, one cannot help but see similar transgressions in the rest of the works, whatever their scale and materials.
Back in Bangkok, Ansathammarat found life's small difficuties - like sitting in traffic, for example, or the temporary absence of a lover - worthy of noting in his large cut canvases. Difficult affairs of the heart often play a role in his titles-One Day I Will Be With You, Goodbye Days, Only the Lonely, Trouble Sleeping-but his imagery is never specific. All I can do is wait (2009) is a tall vertical painting in which the canvas rectangle is interrupted by an awkwardly rounded corner where the artist has cut into the frame of the image. A field of marks resembling dark-colored waves suggests a distant ocean seen through a rain-drenched windshield or through flowing tears. The painting's surface is suffused with drops of color that one must work through to perceive any illusion of depth. A large abstract shape invades the field from the absent corner at the upper left; it somewhat resembles a leaf; and as the work's title observes, one can only wait for it to fall-or, if it is a bud (which the imagery also suggests), to bloom.
More specifically personal is My mother loves the black dot (2009), a small watercolor symmetrical enough to suggest a Rorschach inkblot. The artist's act of naming is a loving reference to the one who named him. Centered beneath a field of small orange marks and cut-out strips, a reddish amoebic shape appears that contains a black dot resembling the pupil of an eye. Two brown, patterned rectangular shapes, like flying carpets, cut in diagonally from each upper corner, reiterating the symmetrical pattern of marks and cuts.
The rectangular carpet-like shape reappears as an unassuming floor piece, a leather and wood rug-like sculpture titled Sometimes its hard to talk to her (2009), and yet again in a canvas of the same year, He said to me, we need to talk. The repetition of this patterned rectangle elevates it to the level of graphic icon, although without any clear indication of its meaning. Through this simple recognition one starts to get an idea of Ansathammarat's elusive yet evocative vocabulary and syntax.
The repetition found both in iconography and patterns implies an expression of control over the otherwise uncontrollable pangs of living. Each iteration of shape, pattern, and graphic element forms a language that lets us read his story. If pressed to name this artist's preferred medium, one might say, "narrative," rather than acrylic, watercolor, wood, metal, or paper. In generously recurring gestures, his diary turns outward, as if to let us enter his world and gain an idea of what it is like. In that sense, Adiwit Ansathammarat's diary of small traumas, with its strong verbal component, is in its essence a book of names, for to name something is an act of understanding, acquiring, and coming to terms.
Originally published in 2009.
The writer, Tim Ridlen is an artist and writer who has recently relocated to New York City from Chicago. He is the Senior Editor of Boot Print, a publication out of St. Louis, MO, and has written for New City andBad At Sports in Chicago. He is currently pursuing his MFA at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts.
The mentor, Robert Berlind, is a painter and writer who lives and works in New York. He has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and has received the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Award in Painting and the National Academy's Benjamin Altman Award in Painting. Berlind writes on art for Art in America, BorderCrossings, The Brooklyn Rail, and other publications. He is a member of the National Academy of Design and is an Emeritus Professor of the School of Art+Design, Purchase College, SUNY.